Before sentencing, Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, confronted Loughner. Reading from prepared remarks, Kelly delivered an impassioned statement that was not only highly personal but also deeply political in its appeal for stricter gun control.
In the statement, the couple told Loughner that although he had changed Giffords’s life forever, he had not succeeded in his mission; he had “failed to extinguish the beauty of life.”
“Mr. Loughner, by making death and producing tragedy, you sought to extinguish the beauty of life, to diminish potential, to strain love and to cancel ideas,” Kelly said. “You tried to create for all of us a world as dark and evil as your own. But know this, and remember it always: You failed.”
The court appearance marked the first time that Giffords has come face to face with Loughner since he opened fire at a constituent meeting she was holding in a supermarket parking lot in January 2011. He shot Giffords in the head at close range.
Giffords did not speak at the hearing. She stood at Kelly’s side as they faced Loughner, who was about 20 feet away and showed little emotion as he listened to a succession of victims.
“You pointed a weapon and shot me three times,” said Susan Hileman, another survivor, as she looked directly at Loughner.
“We’ve been told about your demons, about the illness that skewed your thinking,” Hileman said, according to an Associated Press report. “Your parents, your schools, your community, they all failed you.” Hileman said she would “walk out of this courtroom and into the rest of my life, and I won’t think of you again.”
Loughner told U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns that he did not want to speak at the hearing. Burns said the sentence — including a life term for each of the six people killed and a seventh for the attempted assassination of Giffords — meant that Loughner “will never have the opportunity to pick up a gun and do this again.”
In Washington, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. issued a statement echoing that sentiment. Holder also said, “For the victims, their families and the larger community impacted by this tragic event in our nation’s history, it is my sincere hope that this conclusion will help in their journey toward physical and emotional recovery.”
Armed with a 9mm Glock 19 pistol he had bought at a sporting goods store, Loughner fired 33 shots during the 2011 attack before he was tackled while trying to reload. He was carrying 93 rounds, and he intended to assassinate Giffords, according to federal authorities.